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Jobs report finds little overall progress. Why is recovery so slow?

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Prior to 1990, economic recoveries tended to show a fairly quick rebound in jobs, with total US employment rising 4 percent or more within about 15 months. The past couple of decades have been a period of "jobless recoveries," where the progress tends to be slower. The graphic attached to this article (see box near the upper-left part of the story) tells the story visually.

A quick note about the chart: The version shown here omits the 1980 recession for more visual simplicity, since the aftermath includes another recession and recovery. You can visit the original interactive version of the chart at the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.

After the 1990 recession, it took three years for the economy to create 4 percent more jobs. After the recessions that began in 2001 and 2007, it's been even more challenging.

Today, some 42 months after the official end of the recession, employment growth is below 3 percent. And after the 2001 recession, job gains hadn't even reached 2 percent after 42 months.

So, by that gauge, this is the worst performance other than the period after 2001. And in some ways, the current recovery lags behind even that post-2001 period. Today, total US employment is still about 3 percent below the peak it hit as the recession began. By this time after the 2001 recession, jobs lagged behind their earlier peak by about half that much.

Now for the why.

The biggest and most obvious answer has to do with debt. Recoveries after a financial crisis, when a nation is struggling with high debt burdens, tend to be protracted, many economists say. That shows up in various areas of the economy. Debt-strapped consumers boost their spending at a slower pace. Home construction doesn't rebound the way it normally would, thanks to the aftereffects of the housing bust. Federal and state governments are looking at lean tax revenues and aren't hiring.

Even foreign trade is affected, since the debt crisis is to some extent global. And all of the above affects the confidence of business to make new investments.

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